I gotta admit something - I got inadvertantly spoiled when it comes to Mexican food when Wifey and I went to Hautulco (southern Pacific Mexico, about halfway between Acapulco and Guatemala) last year. Before then I liked Mexican food, but never really got it when people talked about "authentic" - to me, it was all burritos and tacos.
How we ended up in Huatulco is a crazy story too, because I will venture a bet that 99% of you have never heard of it. But you have heard of Puerto Vallerta and Cabo San Lucas, right? Huatulco is another area the Mexican government has chosen to turn into a tourist paradise, but it's never really taken off. They get tourists, but more of them seem to have come from Europe than come from the United States.
Still, we had never heard of it. So how did we get there? (Besides the obvious smartass answer of "plane" via Mexico City?)
Two years ago we had some work done on our house - painting, yardwork, remodeling, that kind of stuff. At the recommendation of our real estate agent we hired a company called Move-In Ready. They did a great job and Berenice was very helpful - good stuff. Turns out Berenice was born in Mexico and she kept talking about this place she had in Huatulco. She had also just bought a condo there and told us we could stay there if we ever wanted to go. At the time we smiled and said thanks, but a few months later when we wanted to plan our next vacation, we thought why the heck not?
So we went and it was great (hot as hell), but the food was absolutely amazing. I can't even remember what all we ate, but not one meal we had was bad. Fresh seafood, Oaxacan cheese, different types of beef - all inexpensive and all amazing.
After that, when we returned to Portland, none of our old haunts could measure up. Sad, right?
So through various blogs and food sites we kept hearing about this place in North Portland on Mississippi Avenue called Por Que No. Supposedly it was THE place to go in Portland. Skeptical a bit, it took us a while to go - and not least because it's not the most convenient place from our house.
Finally, this past Saturday, we decided to check it out. And yes, it was awesome.
Some things to know about Por Que No:
1 - It's always busy.
2 - You must wait in line and order before taking a table.
3 - The wait staff is friendly but efficient.
4 - It's well worth it.
We waited in line - in 95 degree heat - for about 10 minutes or so (there were about 5-6 orders in front of us). The place isn't air conditioned, but it wasn't horrible either.
We ordered a few different things to share: flautas carnitas (fried mini tacos with pork), a carnitas taco (with queso fresco), a carne asada taco, a pollo asado taco, and a glass of their sangria (the red, though the bianca looked good too).
The sangria we got immediately, and it was nice and fruity - a nice cold drink for the hot day. Our food took about 15 minutes or so to come out. We were splitting everything in half, so I attacked the tacos first while Wifey went for th the flautas (there were three of those).
All three tacos came on fresh corn tortillas, and all three were perfect. I used to hate corn tortillas, but then again I didn't know they could be so yummy - I need to find a place to buy them to use at home. I'm beginning to think the ground beef tacos with flour tortillas I make at home might not be all that authentic...and they definitely aren't as good as these morsels of scrumptiousness.
If I had to pick one of the three I liked best it would be the carnitas one, but that would be a crapshoot, really. And while those taco cart tacos were good, they weren't as good as these. The meat was cooked perfectly, tender and melt in your mouth good.
After I got halfway through each taco and Wifey had polished off half the flautas, we traded. The flautas are pieces of meat tightly rolled in a tortilla, then deep fried. They came topped with a fresh salsa and crema (similar to sour cream, but not as thick and not as strong of a taste) on top. These were amazing. The deep frying - which I'm not a huge fan of in general - wasn't too much; it added the perfect amount of crunch and flavor to complement the meat, not overpower it. The only bad thing I will say here is the meat at the end of the flauta - which is already cooked before being rolled up - might have been a tad tough due to be open to the high temp fryer. And no, that's not a good reason to knock them, but I'm throwing it out there.
We got the perfect amount of food too - and still had some room, which was good for what else we had planned in the neighborhood. Four tacos would be a good meal, six if you want to be stuffed silly - and they have enough kinds they could all be different.
As I said, we are almost never in this part of town, so we decided to explore a tad. This area seems to have been revitalized a bit recently. The idea of revitalization in itself is something I'm not entirely sure I fully endorse - rarely does it help the people, only the area, simply pushing the people in these poorer areas that get revitalized someplace else when they can't keep up with the rent - but you can't argue that it gives those who can afford it some nice new options.
Holy crap that sounds pretentious - not how I mean for it to come across. I'll have to work on better words.
We walked up the street and stopped at a coffee shop called The Fresh Pot. We ordered a mocha - they use the ubiquitious Stumptown Coffee - with a small dollop of whip cream. Definitely a good cup. Also grabbed a lemon poppyseed scone, which came from Nuvrei - again, one mark of a good coffeeshop in our mind is they serve Nuvrei's fantastic pastries. The scone was good, though it wouldn't be at the top of my list to get again considering all the other good things they do.
Our next stop was a place called The Meadow. Wifey found this place from another blog or magazine or something, and it instantly became some place we had to check out. I mean, a store that sells different kinds of salts and high end chocolates, plus wines and flowers? How could that possibly be bad? And no, it's not bad, not bad at all. Well, except for the impact to my bank account...
We picked up some fleur de sel since we were about out, as well as some truffle salt. This stuff is not cheap, but being infused with bits ot truffles it's easy to understand why. We wanted it, but haven't used it for anything yet...what's good enough to be finished with truffle salt? Have to think about that some more. Also picked up some chocolate bars from Michel Cluziel and from Valrhona, as well as a couple chocolate caramels topped with finishing salt and bacon flavored chocolates (!!!) from Xocolatl de David. This store was air conditioned, so that was a nice respite.
They also have tons of other salts, such as various kinds of smoked salts and even one infused with the flavor of Japanese plums (it was nice and pinkish-purple). They also sold salt finishing sets, had a huge wall of various wines, and even have pink salt blocks you can buy to use for cutting foods on (to give them another bit of flavor). Someday.
As we walked back towards the car - with a few more places to add to our list to come back to Mississippi Avenue for - we passed this place called the ReBuilding Center. We didn't go in, but people remodeling can bring old anything there to be re-used - doors, lights, you name it. It caught our eye because when Move-In Ready was doing the work on our house Berenice mentioned they could take the stuff we didn't want here. That was fine with us, especially since it was a trek from home them taking it worked. She also said we should go out there and look for stuff, and then try this great little Mexican place across the street. At the time we just wanted the work on our house done, so forgot all about it.
So as we are standing in front of the ReBuilding Center, we looked across the street...at Por Que No. Berenice, we're sorry - we should have listened to you. If we had, it wouldn't have taken us two more years to find this fantastic food spot. She was right about all the suggestions in our house, she was right about a vacation in Huatulco, and she was right about Por Que No.
Now, one would think that would be enough for a day, but our hedonistic (when it comes to food) tendencies don't allow for that, especially when it comes to an area of town we really don't get to very often. After getting back to the baking car, we drove about ten blocks (seriously, it's hot, give me a break) to another coffee place, Albina Press. I can't honestly say I wanted coffee at this point, but it was close and supposedly as good as Coffeehouse Northwest, which we love.
We had to try, right?
They also use Stumptown, so we got another mocha (see, that's what we get at new places - easier to compare when you get the same drink across multiple shops). It was, again, excellent. I don't know that it was markedly better than The Fresh Pot thought - either place is good enough for me. I will say the barista at Albina Press did a fantastic job with the art from the steamed milk. Good enough for a picture, had I brought my camera (seriously, one of these days I'll learn).
After this we just had one more stop, but we had to drive a few miles to SE Division Street to get there. We took a roundabout drive through some neighborhoods, looking at houses. Not that we are buying, but seeing the different areas was intriguing. As we came up to Burnside Avenue - Portland's dividing line between North and South - we noticed we were right next to the Laurelhurst Market.
By day the Market operates a deli where you can get all kinds of meats in various marinades, things you won't find at a grocery story like pate and foie gras, and they make sandwiches. By night they operate a full restaurant. It's also owned by the same people who run Simpatica, so you knew we had to stop. Again, we weren't hungry...but we got a couple half sandwiches to bring home and put in the fridge anyway. Those are today's lunch, so maybe next post. (Nah, I'll just update this one. One sandwich was a turkey and bacon one, the other was a BBQ Beef one - slab with a bit of sauce, not shredded. Both were good sandwiches, but I don't think I need to go way, way out of my way like that for them. However, we will eventually go back to this place for dinner, and possibly some crazy stuff out of the deli case.)
The final stop was a place called Tart. They are known for frozen custard, something we had never had - but considering frozen custard is creamier and higher in fat than ice cream, there is zero chance that could be bad.
When we walked in the first thing we were asked is if we had been there before. Just a note, but even if you have a "No" will get you samples of the frozen custard and frozen yogurt. I like creamy, so the custard was better in my mind.
We both ordered the Saturday special, which was a medium order of custard with two cookies from Two Tarts Bakery, who specializes in miniature cookies. Wifey ordered plain vanilla and I ordered a vanilla/chocolate swirl - we both picked Two Tarts mini Oreo-like cookies for our "garnish." You don't normally get to pick your cookies - it's supposed to be the mini chocolate chip ones - but they were out, so he gave us a choice. And an extra one each, because they were out - like I needed that (but say no? yeah right...).
This was fantastic - creamy goodness all the way through. However, a medium, after all we had already eaten, was seriously too much; we should have shared. Did that stop either of us from finishing it? Of course not, that's silly!
Tart also has a Clover coffee machine, which supposedly makes the smoothest coffee ever. We tried this on one of our tours at a Starbucks in Seattle (Starbucks now owns Clover and is putting machines in select stores nationwide). Wifey likes it, but I'm not so sure. To me, it's almost too smooth...like whatever it does to the grounds takes out some of the uniqueness to those particular beans, or something like that. I think I need to try it once or twice more to really wrap my head around it.
Yeah, like we needed more coffee at this point.
We then managed to get back to the car to get home...we didn't make any more stops, but we did see something on. We passed a recent accident - police were on scene but that's all - where a Subaru wagon plowed into the side of a Lexus SUV (the big one, but the older model, no idea what it's called).
As we came up from behind all we could tell was the Subaru had T-boned the Lexus. As traffic moved past the accident we could tell the Subaru was done - it's entire front end was just destroyed. Now, it had hit the driver's side of the Lexus, so I fully expected to see similar damage on that vehicle.
Nope. Not a dent. Heck, I don't even think there was a scratch. That car probably drove away after the pesky Subaru had been cleared away. Apparently those Lexus SUVs are made out of the same thing as a tank...maybe I need one...
And the last thought of the day...
Wifey's mom has been staying with us through this hellishly hot weather, and she elected to stay home with the cats and dog while we went on our foodie adventure. We left Ruby in her crate, since she's big and can still intimidate, but apparently she also whined a bit while were gone. That is, until Wifey's mom began reading her poetry out loud.
Who knew our dog was so cultured? She doesn't like people or dogs much at all, but she's all for a rousing round of Japanese haiku.
The dog is almost seven years old and we still learn something new every day. Crazy.